It’s Ok To Have Jesus and a Therapist.
I have grown up in the church, and I have enjoyed my spiritual journey through it. To say it has been easy would be a lie; I have seen the ugliest side of the church, and I still love what God has for it. I grew up as a PK (pastor’s kid), and I was that one PK that needed the full church to raise me as I was a lot to handle. I loved being a PK, but it came with some hardships.
I want my kids to grow up in the church, but I pray they see it as God-ordained; there have been far too many of my friends who were PK's that have left the church altogether because they have seen the ugly but not the beauty of the church. As a church pastor, I believe in transparency and accountability, so I feel the church needs to own up to things it has created that are unhealthy and try to correct where we have gone off the path. Sadly, through culture, we have changed the church through the years away from its real purpose. My desire is that we can start a dialogue to correct unhealthy and sometimes sinful thoughts in the church and change our minds to kingdom ethics and culture.
The first stigma I feel we need to address is mental health. Growing up in the church, I saw a culture that thought it was better to put on a façade about your current mental position than to cry for help. I once was at a Nazarene youth camp and saw a teenager go up to the altar and admit they were dealing with depression/suicide, and the youth speaker told that teen they need to pray through it and hand it over to God. After praying over said teen, the youth speaker got up and told the whole camp (180-200) teens about this teen’s struggle and preceded to downplay such pain and hurt. As far as I know, that teen has yet, after 17 years, to step back into the church.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, "The mind can descend far lower than the body, for there are bottomless pits in it. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour."
(Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David [New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1874], 4:132).
The Bible tells us that humans have a body and a soul (2 Corinthians 4:16; Matthew 10:28). It makes sense that the fall and corruption of God's perfect creation would affect both our spiritual and physical health.
Many biblical characters experienced deep feelings:
David (Psalm 38:4),
Job (Job 3:26),
Elijah (1 Kings 19:4),
Jonah (Jonah 4:3).
A couple of points to help fight this stigma:
- Having a mental health issue is not a failure. Struggling with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, body dysmorphia, or any other mental health concern is real and should be addressed with compassion and professional intervention—and without shame.
- Mental illness does not disqualify you from holiness. The church for years has used our happiness and health as a measure of how spiritual we are. We are destined for disappointment if we try to stick to that. The church makes a mistake and measures spiritual strength through monetary standings and mental health as a level of how holy we are. That is a lie we have created!
- The church is comprised of many people, each with an important role to play (1 Corinthians 12:12–27). The church universal is made up of different parts, and each is fighting a struggle in life. No matter the issue, they are welcome into the kingdom of God. We each have a journey in holiness, and it may look different than others, and that's ok.
- Tough love is not always the answer. Tough love comes in lots of clichéd phrases. Put some dirt on it. Suck it up, buttercup. While I, as a parent, may use this to reduce the number of Band-Aids wasted on bloodless boo-boos, it isn't always the best treatment course. Sometimes the best thing to do is show grace and patience rather than tough love.
- Certain things need professional help. As great as pastors are at helping, we must understand they are called shepherds of the kingdom and not therapists. We can do the best thing as Christians and pastors- to listen and support and encourage them to seek people who have been called by God to help with the specific mental health field. Not everyone is a therapist and should be “helping” by giving their own opinion/advice.
- Prescription drugs are not Satan. It is clear from Jesus' ministry that to seek healing is not wrong; in fact, it is very right! Also, Luke, the writer of both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, was a physician (Colossians 4:4). Dr. Luke may not have dispensed prescriptions in the manner that doctors do today, but he was in the business of treating people's physical ailments, using the medicines and treatments of his day. I believe God uses people to help bring healing physically and mentally in this world.
We, as the Church and Christians, need to be transparent and real in our lives. That means showing our true selves. If you are struggling to reach out, you are not somehow unholy if you talk to a therapist. You are loved!
As Christians, we can trust God to guide our health through modern means like therapy and prescription medicine while also praying for his intervention and strength to sustain us. It doesn't have to be one or the other—it can be both.
We need to show the importance of normalizing and encouraging mental health, embodying what it looks like to love people. May God our creator bless you with sustaining grace today!
Grace & Peace,